Criminal Minds

(Torah Portion Tetzaveh) Criminal Minds!

Early this week the Jerusalem Post reported that a car bomb exploded in a residential section of Petach Tikva, Israel. A woman awakened by the blast, ran to her sixth floor balcony and saw a car torn apart by the explosion and engulfed in flames. Stuck in the car was a man screaming out repeatedly, ‘Shma Yisrael Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echad,’ until his voice became silent when he was horrifically burned alive on the street below.

The police assume that the explosion was not a targeted mob hit or an act of terror, rather the two men in the car were mobsters transporting the bomb to plant it at another site when it detonated prematurely. This is known as a, “mob work accident.” My first reaction to this report was that here we have a person caught up in mob activity – yet at his final dying moments he declared his allegiance to the Almighty. This seemed quite contradictory.

However, upon further reflection, a Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers came to mind, which advises us, “Repent moments before you pass on.” It appears that this criminally involved person seized an opportunity to declare G-d’s unity and express his remorse before he expired – something that many who live upstanding lives do not merit doing. How is it that a person, part of the “underworld crime scene,” can express his connection to the Almighty, while allegedly in the midst of transporting a bomb to injure and kill others?

Our sages tell us something fascinating. “Everyone prays for G-d’s assistance and protection – even a Ganov – a robber while he is the midst of carrying out his thievery –calls out to G-d to protect him from getting caught!
We see that prayers can be on the mind and lips of a criminal – hence, when faced with the catastrophe the declaration of ‘Shema Yisroel,’ was not so foreign to his lips.

I recently met a non-Jewish person who is involved in a 12 step recovery program. He shared with me that his approach to life is basically, ‘Survival of the fittest.’ He continued, “I steal all the time, and the only regret I have is that I got caught. I don’t care in the slightest that I took other people’s property.”

This person is comfortable with the dictum, “What is yours is mine and what is mine is mine.” Ethics of our Fathers classifies this approach to the wicked. Someone with this approach has no regret or remorse for stealing and G-d and prayer are out of the picture.

To be honest, I was quite surprised by his straightforwardness and skewed ideology, and I began to explain and describe to him the pain and feeling of violation of one who has been burglarized. I related how terrible my son and daughter in law felt and how difficult it was for them when recently their apartment had been broken into and ransacked with money and precious items stolen.

I also explained to him that the main reason G-d flooded the world in the time of Noach was because thievery was rampant. G-d also destroyed the cities of Sedom and Amorah because of their widespread corruption. Society and people cannot survive without rules. He listened respectfully and thanked me for the perspective. It seemed to be the first time basic ideas of morality and taking the feelings of others into account was explained or presented to him.

In this Parsha, Moshe’s name is missing. Why is that? The Medrash explains that after the Jews sinned with the golden calf, G-d wished to destroy the nation and begin anew with Moshe. Moshe pleaded with G-d on behalf of the Jewish Nation and said, “If You destroy them, then erase my name from your Torah.” Moshe’s pleas were accepted and the nation was spared – yet G-d fulfilled Moshe’s condition in part – by eliminating his name from a single Parsha.

The famous Vilna Goan, points out that the Yahrtzait of Moshe always falls within the week that this portion of Tetzaveh is read. (This year it is on Friday.) Moshe’s name is hidden from this particular portion because he departed this world at this time of the year. Although G-d attests in the Torah that Moshe was His most devoted servant, Moshe placed himself and his destiny on a limb on behalf of the nation as a leader of the Jewish nation. This was an ultimate expression of selflessness.

Despite all of Moshe’s accolades, when he was giving an account of the expenditures of the Mishkan, he fell short, and couldn’t account for a certain amount of silver. The people began to suspect the devout Moshe of using public money for his personal use. Moshe ‘the suspect’ prayed to G-d that he recall where it was spent, and G-d granted his wish. It had been used for the hooks that held up the curtains of the courtyards. Moshe was thus cleared from all suspicion.

We are people intrinsically connected to the Almighty, with prayers continuously on our lips – from the greatest person to those who have fallen to the lowest levels. G-d is forever eager to hear from His children and He awaits and listens to us all!

Wishing you a restful, peaceful and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks